The 17 Best Albums of 2017 (So Far)

It’s become fashionable to declare the album dead. Although Jay Electronica did call the format a false concept, we would’t mind hearing his debut disc if given the chance? The album as an art form isn’t dead at all, but it’s changed a lot over the years. How many of you reading this right now were up late last night, diving deep into Kendrick Lamar’s latest opus? Case closed.

Today MASS APPEAL wraps up our first-quarter retrospective of 2017 with this list of the 17 Best Albums (So Far). No, DAMN. won’t be included here because it was released last night—during the second quarter of the year. You can read kris ex’s album review for that, or check back in the coming months for continuing coverage of K-Dot’s densely wrought masterpiece.

Of course you may not agree with all our picks—but that’s the point, isn’t it? We’re here to start a conversation, shed new light, and educate and civilize all these cultural peons out here. (You can thank us later—or cuss us on social media, whichever you prefer.) So crank up your Victrola, cue up those 1200s, slap in that 8-track tape, or press play on the Walkman, iPod, Soundcloud link, or whatever other device gets it done for you. By all means necessary, you must hear this music.

17 Best Songs, 17 Best Music Videos, 17 Best Moments 17 Best Movie Moments.

6_show-me-the-body-corpus-i-mixtape17. Show Me The Body, Corpus I

“Time is of the essence, motherfucker,” insists the voice over on the second track of Show Me the Body’s compilation project—a tight, tangled mess that hits like an iron fist. With contributions from underground all stars ranging from Denzel Curry to Princess Nokia to Cities Aviv to Mother Moor (and more), the Corpus I collection sounds like late nights and illegal warehouse parties, hooking up with future lost loves, and throwing bottles against brick walls along dark stretches of forgotten city streets. SMTB play for the young, the frustrated, the lost and the bruised. At once fetid and fresh, this is music demanding to be heard. –Benjamin Meadows-Ingram



10-jonwayne_rapalbum216. Jonwayne, Rap Album 2

After a close call touring overseas, California-based rapper and producer Jonwayne chose to give up drinking entirely, placing himself in exile for two years while carefully crafting Rap Album 2, a confessional project that serves as a portrait of the artist coming into his own. With a deft lyricism that reflects the influence of MF Doom Jonwayne speaks from a place of maturity on the track “Out of Sight” while spitting the most poignant lyric of the project: “I’m working on this living just to rap about life / that’s some backwards commitment.” The artist’s latest offering speaks of apathy and loneliness while showcasing some delicate production to boot. You may remember our Rhythm Roulette back in 2014 where the artist showed off his production chops while rocking a pair of Tevas—if not peep it hereYears later, on Rap Album 2 Jonwayne rocks twice as hard, making the most of a near-death experience. Kyle Petreycik



12_freddie-gibbs-you-only-live-2wice-artwork15. Freddie Gibbs, You Only Live 2Wice

Freddie Gibbs is back with a vengeance on You Only Live 2Wice, his follow up to 2015’s Shadow of a Doubt, and his first release since being extradited to face charges of sexual assault and eventually being acquitted. On “Crushed Glass” the Indiana rapper tackles his troubled past head-on: “I just beat a rape case, groupie bitch I never fucked/ Tried to give me ten for some pussy that I never touched.” The project’s album art features Gibbs as a Christ-like figure ascending to heaven unfazed by all the madness. Gibbs puts in work on this taut 8-track project, spitting bars over top of icy productions by Kaytranada, BadBadNotGood, and Speakerbomb to name a few.  KP



13_the_xx14. The xx, I See You

Glad The xx finally woke up from the slumber of their last album. In a slight remove from their moody black-and-white formality (the album is literally blue this time), The xx loosen up on their latest, I See You, with a poppier sound that’s an in-between of their older stuff—shaped by Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s hushed vocals—and the sample-heavy sensibilities of Jamie xx. The highlight is still “On Hold,” which literally has a bit of Hall & Oates in it. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim



5_syd-album-art13. Syd, Fin

Syd admitted, when she announced her solo debut, that she was interested in exploring the pure pop realm of her own musicality. On Fin, she makes good on that intention, crafting breezy jams that are equal parts sultry and candid, managing to examine matters of love and lust, and juxtapose them against her own insecurities without ever coming off as overly dense. On tracks like “Dollar Bill” and “Nothing to Somethin,” she’s so fluid she sounds at one with the instrumental. Even when she evokes a sensual, heavy-breathed cadence for “Body,” she never loses her balance. Despite its title, Fin isn’t definitive. It’s the birth of a blueprint sturdy enough to support multiple follow-ups. —Khari Nixon



7_thundercat_drunk12. Thundercat, Drunk

On his third studio album Thundercat speaks to the challenges of simply getting through the day.  “Comb your beard, brush your teeth, beat your meat, go to sleep,” he sings on “Captain Stupido” accompanied by a funky bass groove and the funky muzak sounds that are found peppered throughout a record that equal pats punk, funk, and jazz fusion. As a session musician for both Erykah Badu and Suicidal Tendencies, Thundercat brings multiple skill sets to his latest offering, which is as varied as his collaborators list. And as anybody who’s caught him live will attest, the bass master never takes himself too seriously. Some choice cuts from the Grammy-winning artist’s latest project include “Walk on By” (a much-anticipated reunion with Kendrick Lamar), the fast-paced guitar-tickling “Uh Huh,” and the album’s intimate R&B-infused title track. Drink up. KP



15_goldlink11. Goldlink, At What Cost

Goldlink grew up on a musical diet of D.C. go-go, a regional subculture rooted in funk, blues, and R&B that evolved into something “more punk and metalish” as Goldlink explained in his Open Space interview. “It became hella raw, less quality and really fast and really violent.” That’s a good description of his debut album At What Cost, which he summarized as “what happens at a go-go on a regular night.“ The warm sound of the project is no accident. What wasn’t originally recorded on analog equipment was transferred to tape so as to lend the project a sort of hand-made sonic texture. The whole thing unspools like a movie from the opening credits on down. With Jazmine Sullivan and Kaytranada in the party along with fellow D.C. rappers Wale and Shy Glizzy, At What Cost is one jam you don’t want to miss. —Rob Kenner



4_jid-album-art10. J.I.D. ,The Never Story

J.I.D. wowed the rap world last year with “Never,” a cutthroat autobiographical tale that doubles as the central theme of The Never Story, the Atlanta native’s first release since inking a deal with J. Cole’s Dreamville imprint. The breakneck-paced single was just one piece of the Spillage Village rapper’s pie, though. On The Never Story, J.I.D. toes the line between optimistic and tentative, as he fights away distractions and tries to work his way out of his precarious stomping grounds. J.I.D. can be verbose, but he avoids over-rapping pitfalls with mesmerizing cadences, like on the 6lack-asissted “8701,” when he switches paces and emulates 6lack’s half-sung delivery on the tail end of the track. J.I.D. tells more than just raw tales of life on the streets, he embodies its very spirit, ducking and darting in and out of instrumentals, sometimes reversing course without warning. The listener is rewarded with nary a dull moment, and a body of work that may prove surprisingly relatable to some. —KN



11_stormzy_art9. Stormzy, Gang Signs & Prayer

The majority of the world missed grime’s *moment* and is now belatedly catching on. Late is better than never, but most of the genre’s players had moved on to new sounds, Stormzy included. This album has its DNA throughout it, but is not really a grime album. There are a few grime tracks, but generally it touches on the genre more as one part of London’s rich heritage than as its defining element. It’s a pretty regional album, even when looking to American sonics as its focus, because that’s what’s happening on the ground there as well. It’s a diverse project with aspects of grime, garage, UK rap, gospel and even a touch of dubstep. Stormzy deserves this moment in the international spotlight. —MS



3_smino-album-art8. Smino, blkswn

Smino’s impressive debut is a multi-layered, multi-textured freak out that calls to mind comparisons to Anderson .Paak, Mac Miller, Chance and The Love Below-era 3 Stacks. blkswn doesn’t have the pop leanings of those others—there’s no “No Problem” or “Damn” here, and certainly no “Hey Ya”—but its a refreshing and rewarding listen front to back as Smino and his suite of collaborators dip in and out, playing with song structure, style and sound like an accomplished St. Louis jazz outfit updated for the hip hop digital age. It’s the season’s sleeper hit. Get familiar. —BMI



17_joey-badass-art7. Joey Bada$$ AmeriKKKan Bada$$

On “AmeriKKKan Idol” the twelfth and final track of AmeriKKKan Bada$$, Jozif Badmon has so much to say he can’t get his words out fast enough. “AmeriKKKan Idol, one hand on my bible, one hand on my rifle,” he raps at maximum velocity, capping an album that’s all about cathartic release as the Obama/BLM era morphs into Trump time. “Temptation” opens and closes with a sample of nine-year-old Zianna Oliphant addressing the Charlotte City Council in the wake of Keith Lamont Hill’s shooting at the hands of police. ‘‘I’ve come here today to talk about how I feel, and I feel like that we are treated differently than other people,’’ she said. ‘‘And I don’t like how we’re treated. Just because of our color — doesn’t mean anything to me.” A bright sparkling 1-900 Kirk Knight–produced beat kicks in. By the end of the song Zianna is in tears, and the listener is ready to rage. —RK



drake-more-life-art6. Drake, More Life

With his Toronto album behind him, Drake went global (or at least Euro) for More Life and the result was a more uptempo project built for radio, luxe hotel lobbies and nightclubs full of thin women in shimmering dresses, champagne flutes, a sea breeze and dancing shoes. It’s not a “great album” in the traditional sense—it plays like the “playlist” that it is, more vibes than ideas—but it’s very successful at setting a mood while offering a lil’ something something for every kind of Drake fan, plus a few gems (“Skepta Interlude” and “4422”) for those who may prefer to pepper their “Drake Playlist” with a lil’ less Drake. However you slice it, though, there’s no denying it–like Views before it, More Life (which already set streaming records) isn’t going anywhere anytime soon except up, and Drake’s global reach only continues to grow. —BMI

9_migos-culture5. Migos, Culture

Easily the quarter’s most fun album, possibly the most important and damn near the biggest, Migos dialed it back just a bit and delivered an undeniable banger with their sophomore release. Driven by its two runaway hits—”Bad and Boujee” and “T-Shirt”—and stacked with a rack of other records ready to put any party on tilt (“Big on Big,” “Slippery,” “Call Casting,” you name it), Culture captures exactly where it’s at right now: in Atlanta, turning up and saucy as fuck. Cookies! —BMI



8_kodak-black4. Kodak Black, Paintin’ Pictures

This was very much an album, as opposed to a collection of tracks. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but writing a full length project that connects all it parts is an accomplishment. Maybe in a time of information overload, a long player becomes easier to grasp on to, because it vibrates more than the rest of the noise. But it can also make it different to explore a wider range of artists when you have to sit down with a large project for each. Painting Pictures is worth your time. It maintains a consistent outlook throughout but ebbs and flows as events and guests impact his train of thought. It’s emotionally and sonically varied and Kodak adjusts to make his guests welcome, adapting his sound for them in his home. It’s proud but not boastful, thoughtful while not purposely deep, and energetic if not always turn up material. Definitely offers a new perspective on his corner of the country. —MS



16_rick_ross_better_you3. Rick Ross, Rather You Than Me

Remember when they used to crack jokes about Rick Ross? Talking about Wingstop, wheat grass and yoga—whatever. How many rap stars have we really got left? Who’s gonna rock that crown and drop those golden bars? The release of Rozay’s ninth studio album, Rather You Than Me, served as a timely reminder that Rick Ross is cut from a different cloth.”I’m happy Donald Trump became the president,” he raps on “Dead Presidents” alongside Future, Jeezy, and Yo Gotti. “Because we gotta destroy before we elevate.” Serving up truth bombs like “Idols Become Rivals” and the epic “Santorini, Greece,” Ross set himself apart from the pack—an “eagle on the mountain top” as he described his vantage point during one smoke-filled listening session. Nobody picks beats better. Not many working today know how to ratchet up the cinematic tension. Ross pushes things way beyond the brink of caricature, to a place near the precipice of disaster from which only real bosses make it back. —RK



sampha-process2. Sampha, ‘Process

Even prior to the debut of his first full-length album, Process, Sampha had developed a reputation for being one of the most emotive and profound singers of R&B. His viscous vocals and uncanny songwriting ability have become the hallmarks of his artistry; a verse or hook from Sampha is capable of eliciting emotions some have never felt or thought about with pinpoint accuracy. Sometimes, all it takes is one line. On Process, the U.K. singer puts all these skills to work with awe-striking ease, even as he traverses through sentimental valleys, like the sanctuary his mother’s home once provided on “Like The Piano.” The beauty of Process is in its recklessness. At times, it’s tangible, like on “Reverse Faults,” which is climaxed by an ominous refrain: “Took the brake pads out the car.” Other times, like on the self-destructive “Under,” it’s subtle. Where some artists find peace in suppressing difficult emotional quagmires, Sampha takes joy in throwing himself at them—no brake pads—in search of true answers. —KN




1. Future, ‘Future‘ / ‘Hendrxx

For much of the last few years, Future has been a volume scorer, putting out mixtape after album after mixtape, rarely missing a beat with his fanbase and logging enough Top 40 hits and Billboard 200 successes to justify a lengthy vacation. Not much changed to start 2017. Future released two 17-track studio albums, Future and HNDRXX, on consecutive Fridays, outdoing his own past release paces, but these projects weren’t just dumps of studio hard drives. Each LP helped bring full-circle a prophecy birthed after lukewarm reception to his 2014 Honest album sent future home to Atlanta, in search of a new self-center. On Future, the rapper was a well-rested Steph Curry, tossing up shots from every which angle. Flute-driven club banger? “Mask Off” A freaky piano key confessional? “Feds Did a Sweep” A partially hummed fire-starter that pays homage to Steve Seagal? “I’m So Groovy.” He couldn’t miss, and with Metro Boomin, Zaytoven and Southside in tow, Future knew it, much like he did when he was gloriously rambling his way into the mixtape history books. However, what truly earns Future his upper-echelon placement is HNDRXX, his version of the Future pop album—what Honest was supposed to be. A melodic, often soulful journey through a multitude of songwriting capabilities, from Febreze commercial melodies to airy Lionel Richie impressions, including a bonafide smash in “Incredible.” It helps to be ambidextrous. —KN

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